AUSTIN, Texas — Doing what President Barack Obama would not do, Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that he will deploy up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to augment a month-old state police surge on the Texas-Mexico border — and will bill the federal government for the estimated $12 million monthly tab.
Perry said the extra troops, to be mobilized in the next month, were needed because a huge influx of unaccompanied minors threatened to distract the Border Patrol from their mission of apprehending dangerous criminals associated with Mexican drug cartels and affiliated gangs who see the crisis as an opportunity to penetrate the stretched U.S. defenses.
Perry said that while the harrowing tales of the unaccompanied minors coming to America at great risk and terrible cost “has rightfully captured the national attention,” the children make up only 20 percent of those crossing the border illegally.
U.S. policy should focus on sending those children home and keeping the other 80 percent out, he said.
“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Perry said. “We are too good of a country.”
Perry was joined at the packed Texas Capitol news conference by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican Party’s candidate to succeed Perry.
Abbott praised Perry for his “decisive leadership.” Democrats panned Perry’s decision as unwise and political.
“Once again,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, “Texas taxpayers are being forced to pay for Governor Perry’s grandiose political ambitions.”
As Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, and freshman U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, explore the possibility of running for president in 2016, the border crisis has cast a bright spotlight on the governor, who is trying to overcome the bad impression left during his 2012 presidential run.
Perry met with Obama when the president was in Texas two weeks ago, and Perry’s two main suggestions were that the president visit the border to see the situation for himself, and that he deploy the National Guard to shore up border defenses.
The president instead called on the governor to help him pass a $3.7 billion spending plan that would deliver a broader array of resources to help process the new arrivals.
“What we’re hopeful is that Governor Perry will not just take these kinds of steps that are generating the kind of headlines I suspect he intended,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday, “but will actually take the kinds of steps that will be constructive to solving the problem over the long term.”
Perry had come under fire from some Texas tea party leaders — including JoAnn Fleming of Tyler, chair of the Texas Legislature’s Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee, and Julie McCarty, president of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party — for spending time bashing the president instead of acting on his own. They called on Perry to activate the National Guard.
Tea party leaders have also called for a special session of the Legislature to develop a more comprehensive solution to the border situation, as has Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor. Davis renewed that call Monday, adding that the governor should be deploying additional deputy sheriffs to the border instead of “Texas National Guard units who aren’t even authorized to make arrests.”
Adjutant Gen. John Nichols, who leads the Guard, said at the Perry news conference that “we could detain people,” but that the primary focus of the troops would be on “referring and deterring” — deterring immigrants through their visible presence and referring those they believe to have crossed the border illegally to Department of Public Safety officers.
Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the troops are not needed for the problem at hand.
“Since the beginning of this humanitarian crisis, elected and law enforcement officials in the Rio Grande Valley have observed no increase in crime,” Burke said.
The cost to taxpayers, Burke added, will be about $5 million a week when the troop deployment is combined with the state police surge — dubbed Operation Strong Safety — that began June 18.
Perry said the money would come from “budget execution,” which refers to a statutory method for redirecting existing spending. A Perry spokesman said the governor will meet on that with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who spoke at the news conference, and House Speaker Joe Straus, who was out of state traveling with his family.
Abbott, who likes to brag about how many times he has sued the Obama administration, said he hoped litigation would not be necessary to force Washington to cover the costs of the troops, but said that was always a possibility.
“Texas is willing to put the boots on the ground, but Washington is going to foot the bill,” Abbott said.